Monday, December 15, 2008
A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes ... and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.
We live our lives day in and day out not realizing we're even in a prison cell. We wait. We hope. And, we work in vain to open the door of freedom. We think we're in control. We think we have to have all of the right answers. We think we could have done this better or that better or been better prepared for the tests in life.
But when we let go. When we realize that our efforts are in vain. When we begin to understand the mystery that is God. We wait. We hope. And the door of freedom is open for us.
Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow.
Praise Him ALL creatures here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Is this really what those who follow Jesus in the United States long for? Is it really what I long for? Certainly, I long for forgiveness and renewal for myself. And, certainly, I want it for others, but do I really long for it? To long for something seems to be a more serious yearning.
Matthew 5:6 says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."
I hunger and thirst for a lot of things. Admittedly, my own righteousness more often than Gods'. I mean, who doesn't want to be right? I, like most Americans, want to be right, to have the finer things in life, the right house in the right neighborhood with the right car wearing the right clothes having the right electronics, right dreams, right goals, right body, right schedule, right job with the right company, etc., etc., etc.
So how can I long for God's righteousness? How can the church help to heal this absurd longing for things? I think the best way for communities of faith to alleviate our insatiable desires is to stop modeling it! How many times have people of faith been in church meetings longing for church vans, bigger organs, family life centers, more young families, more tithers, more state of the art equipment, more, bigger, newer, better? We can't model justice while continuing to live unjustly.
Lord, help your people to learn to say no. No to suffering. No to injustice. No to personal righteousness. No. Lord, may your kingdom come.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."
I still think we're often confused about what it means to be blessed, but today I want to focus more on the word "meek." Merriam-Webster gives three definitions of meek:
2 : deficient in spirit and courage
3 : not violent or strong
Definition #1 does not sound like a blessing for the meek one, yet it does sound like Jesus--and that's who we say we want to be like--right?
Definition #2 sounds like you're lacking spirit & courage--which, to me, contradicts the first definition. To be able to endure injury with patience & without resentment would require a great deal of courage and a great deal of help from the Holy Spirit.
Definition #3 is confusing--not being violent is certainly a good thing, but does the "not" apply also to the word "strong"? In order to live a life of non-violence, I believe you need a great deal of strength. I believe violence is a weak response to conflict.
Meanwhile, my desire to be right is often more powerful than my desire to be meek. Sometimes I may exhibit meekness, but all the while, seethe on the inside. How can I claim the power that is mine to choose meekness? To choose humility? Truly, choosing meekness and humility requires much more strength, much more power, much more self-control than being abrasive, sarcastic or right. Choosing arrogance is easy. It's in my nature. But if I could harness that power or even recognize it in the moment...
I'm sure I could experience great joy and inexplicable freedom. I'm sure my "enemies" would have no power over my life. I'm sure I would be one step closer in my desire to follow Christ. Meekness is a gift that may feel more like a burden than a blessing.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Minister: one officiating or assisting the officiant in church worship
Reverend: of or relating to the clergy
Priest: one authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, an agent between humans and God
Clergy: a group ordained to perform pastoral or sacerdotal functions in a Christian church
According to Merriam Webster On-Line, these are the definitions of words we so often use interchangeably. However, as I reflect on these titles, only one appears to be about a person who cares deeply for the spiritual health of others--and that is Pastor. Can one be called to be a minister or priest without being called to pastor? Is being clergy simply about performing functions? Officiating? Being authorized to perform rites of religion? Authorized by whom? By God? Or by man? Doesn't scripture tell us that God equips the called? Moses certainly didn't have his resume in order, and yet God called him to do great things.
What is it we're looking for in clergy today? Are we looking for church CEO's? Managers who ensure duties are performed as assigned? Financial officers who ensure the books are in order? Dynamic speakers who entertain? In my denomination, we have a person who's title in our conference is Director of Pastoral Excellence. What makes an excellent pastor? How is that measured? Who decides?
It seems to me that the criteria for an excellent pastor might be different than the criteria for an excellent minister. And, while I believe we need excellent ministers, I believe the world is longing for--even aching for, excellent pastors. We're looking for guides who are living the way of Jesus. We long for glimpses of those who truly clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience...those who bear with one another, forgive each other...above all those who are clothed in love. It's not fair to expect more of one human being over another, and yet...we do.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Manifestation, Restoration...or is it...Restoration, Manifestation
In reading the scriptures above these words stuck out. Psalm 80:3,7 and 19 say: "Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved." Restore us. I think we long to be restored, yet we run from the restoration process. I have a dining room table that would be magnificent if it were restored. Yet to be magnificent, it has to be stripped, laid bare, sanded, smoothed, then re-finished...rubbed, polished, cared for. In it's current state, it's functional, useful, not completely unattractive. It holds memories and bears the marks of a good life. And yet...if it were restored to it's previous grandeur, it would still be functional, useful, beautiful. It would still hold memories, and perhaps, it would sustain the marks of a life to come.
Restore us. Sounds humbling. Sounds frightening. Sounds painful. Sounds ugly. Sounds like love. Sounds magnificent.
Then in 1 Corinthians 12:7 another word surfaces. "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." Manifestation.
Freedictionary.com says of manifestation: "An indication of the existence, reality, or presence of something." For example, morning sickness is an indication that you might be pregnant. There may not be visible signs of the existence of a child for some time, but that doesn't change the reality that a child is present. So, the Holy Spirit, manifests itself, shows itself, indicates it's presence in different ways for each person. Why? For the common good. This notion of a personal relationship with Christ is relatively new isn't it? We want personal service, individual recognition, our own blogspots, "my"space, personal identification numbers, "I"-pods, "I"-phones, it really is all about me. At least that's what I've made it.
So which comes first? Manifestation or Restoration? Restoration or Manifestation? Or do they come together? Does the Spirit manifest itself in the process of restoration? The restoration of each of us for the common good of all of us. Let your face shine, that we may be saved. Sounds magnificent.
Friday, April 25, 2008
So, I open my Bible randomly--not usually the way I choose what scripture to read--and read this: "A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low: the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.'"
And, I'm so perplexed by the punctuation placement of the : and the ". In the Gospels, this scripture is quoted like this, "A voice cries out in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord.'" And, we know that John the Baptist is in the wilderness crying out. Right? But Isaiah says, a voice cries out, "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord." Huh. That's different. Isn't it?
Wordnet.princeton.edu defines wilderness like this:
- wilderness ((politics) a state of disfavor) "he led the Democratic party back from the wilderness"
- wilderness, wild (a wild and uninhabited area left in its natural condition) "it was a wilderness preserved for the hawks and mountaineers"
- wilderness (a bewildering profusion) "the duties of citizenship are lost sight of in the wilderness of interests of individuals and groups"; "a wilderness of masts in the harbor"
The scripture goes on: "A voice says, 'Cry out!' And I said, 'What shall I cry?' All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower in the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever."
That's a great question. What shall I cry? When all people--the good, the bad, the ugly--lack endurance, faithfulness, devotion. When our constancy fades. How can I make paths straight? When my constancy fades? I guess, the best thing I can do is get out of the way. The best thing I can do is not be a stumbling block.
"Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another...Let us then pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding."
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Tonight, I'll be teaching confirmation students about "The Bible." So for the past 2 weeks, off and on, I've been thinking about scripture and it's relevance in my life. I've taught on the subject numerous times--at youth group, at camp, and even to confirmation students before, but each time there's a pressure to be sure I get it right. There's a pressure to make students "get it." I remember hearing talks about the importance of Bible reading, quiet time, study groups, etc. throughout my life, and yet, I don't remember every really "getting it." So what can I say that's different?
My mom read a Jane Goodall quote to me this morning that said, "What you do makes a difference. What you need to decide is what kind of difference you want to make." I decided to write it down, but I wasn't sure why. As I write this, it came back to mind, because it occurs to me that it probably doesn't matter what I say tonight or how I say it. Followers of Christ have to read it for themselves. We'll never understand the importance or the relevance of scripture until we read it. Until we decide to carve out time in our busy lives to rest and read in the presence of God, we'll never realize the power of transformation possible to us. Until we place ourselves in a Bible Study group, we'll never experience the love and grace that is available to ALL.
Father Liem from Our Lady of the Cove Catholic Church spoke at one of the Friday Lenten services, and he asked several questions about how we treat "the Word."
He asked questions like these:
--How do you treat the Word?
--Do you carry the Word around in your purse, pocket or backpack?
--Do you use it only in case of emergencies?
--Could you live without it?
--If not, how do you show the world that you can't live without it?
Then, he reminded us of John 1:1, and he began to talk about how we treat our cell phones. He said that when we forget our cell phones, we turn around and go back for them. He reminded us that we never want to be without them. Why? They are a communication tool, we might need them for an emergency--for us to call out but also for 911 to know where we are, we might want them for entertainment: taking pictures, listening to music, playing games. Whatever it is we use our cell phones for...we don't want to be without them. We check them for missed calls and text messages. We use them as reference guides for phone numbers, appointments, the calculator, the internet, etc. We use them to express ourselves--not only in conversation but with the kind of phone we carry, the embellishments we put on them, the screensaver we choose, the ringtones we buy. I had a student, whose parents took her phone away, tell me that her parents just don't understand what that does to her. That her phone is an extension of herself--like her right arm. I think she may be right.
Father Liem wonders if we treat our cell phones with more importance than with the Word of God. We walk out of houses everyday without recharging ourselves with God's Word. The life that we have so abundantly takes precedence over the Source of our abundance. We aren't so stressed about not being in the Word, as we are when we forget our phones or when our phones malfunction or when we lose service.
John said, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth." So if the Word is Jesus, how do we answer the same, now more haunting, questions that were posed above?
--How do you treat Jesus?
--Do you carry Jesus around in your heart?
--Do you use Jesus only in case of emergencies?
--Could you live without Jesus?
--If not, how do you show the world that you can't live without Him?
Indeed, the Word of God is living and active...
Friday, March 21, 2008
It was about noon when Pilate said to the Chief Priests and the police, "Here is your King!" And they cried out, "Crucify him!"
Jesus did nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.
In humility, Jesus regarded others as better than himself.
Jesus didn't look to his own interests, but to the interests of others.
Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross.
Jesus said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Jesus bowed his head as a sign of submission to God and to prove that the cross was his choice. I read that normally, when people are crucified, they lift their heads to gasp for breath, then drop their heads when they die.
Jesus first declared his mission accomplished, then he bowed his head, then he died. Jesus chose us over himself. It's been a long day, but not nearly as long as it must have been for the disciples. They didn't have resurrection glasses. We do, and it gives us hope.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
"For the sepulchre was nigh at hand." I heard these words tonight at the Maundy Thursday service. In fact, the readings for the entire service were from the King James Version of the Bible. As I listened, I was really taken in by the beauty of the language and the way it was spoken. The strangeness of the language added to the mystery of God's great love story. And yet, I also found myself wondering if the King James language was the best choice. It seemed like language for the insider, for people who already know the story. I noticed people in the service I didn't know. I noticed young children sitting quietly at their parents side. And I wondered if what I was finding so beautiful...and haunting, fell on confused ears. For the sepulchre was nigh, in other words "the tomb was nearby" (so saith the NIV) or "the tomb was convenient" (so saith The Message). If the words aren't understood by the listener, can the story be experienced?
All of this has nothing to do with the scripture reading from John, it's just something I've been thinking about for the last few hours. This scripture is the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet. Have you ever had your feet washed? I have, and it's very humbling. Both times I've found myself very aware of myself, of my unworthiness. It made me nervous, and I felt totally out of my comfort zone. I can only imagine that what I experienced must have also been felt by some of the disciples.
This time when read it, I focused less on myself and the disciples. The text says, "Jesus knew that his hour had come..." and "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands..." and "he knew who was to betray him..." Jesus knew his time on earth was up. Jesus knew he had the power not to go to the cross. He knew that his time on earth was a gift. Jesus knew we would fail him. And yet, he got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He was very deliberate, and I sense that not only was he teaching us to serve one another but he was emptying himself of his power. In that simple act of service and that great act of love, our Savior was methodically humbling himself of his very being. And then he says, "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them."
I know these things. I am blessed. But, I rarely do them. I'm more like Mac Davis singing the chorus of the old country song, "Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble..." It is hard to be humble. Jesus set us an example, that we also should do as He has done to his disciples. Easier said than done.
The red letters:
- Sit here while I go over there and pray.
- I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.
- My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.
- So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
- My Father, if this can not pass unless I drink it, your will be done.
- Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.
- Friend, do what you are here to do.
- Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen this way?
- Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.
When I read these words, I am amazed by the range of emotions, the resolve, the deep understanding, and the love of Jesus. He wanted so desperately for Peter, James and John--of all his followers--to get it. To understand what was happening. To pray with him. The scripture tell us that Jesus was grieved and agitated. And his three closest friends, most faithful followers...slept. He urged them time and again to stay awake, to pray.
There is much debate about what Jesus meant when he prayed about the "cup" passing from him. Some believe that Jesus prayed for some other way to save sinners than for him to die. Others hold that Jesus, in his humanity, feared that Satan might kill him in the Garden. Thus, he was prepared to die there--if it was God's will. The other view is that the cup means separation from God. Jesus knew what suffering eternal death for sin meant, and he feared the experience of bearing the sins of the world, because he knew God would turn his face from him when he became sin for us. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21.)
I'm not sure which camp I fall into. I did notice this time a curious question Jesus asks when he's being arrested. He says, "But how then would scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen this way?" In the past, I always read that as more of a question that needs no answer. Like it was more a statement of resolve than an actual question. This time though, actually typing out the red letters, looking only at Jesus' perspective, I wonder if it was actually a question. I wonder if when he asked God about the possibility of the cup being passed from him and then this question, if his humanity wasn't looking for an alternative route. One thing is clear, Jesus wanted to save us from eternal death. Jesus wanted God's will. But to want another way to get there? That seems reasonable. To want not to be separated from God? That seems like something to fear.
Notice Jesus' interactions with his disciples. To Peter, James and John, he understands--more than anyone else--that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. They can't stay awake while he is grieved unto death, and Jesus understands. Then Judas comes and betrays him with a kiss. And what does Jesus say, "Friend..." He still ate with him at the last supper, he still calls him friend. And finally, when Peter wakes up, realizes what's going on, he tries to fulfill his promise to be with Jesus even unto death. He pulls his sword, which is interesting in and of itself. Why did Peter even have a sword? Did he always carry one? He was a fisherman, not a warrior. Anyway, he pulls his sword and cuts off a guys ear, and Jesus rebukes him. Jesus reminds Peter of who he is and the power he has. Jesus subtly reminds Peter that this is his choice and that scripture is being fulfilled.
Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
It's uncomfortable to read this story, because we know we wouldn't have done any better. We know that the story of the disciples failing is our story. But we can take comfort in also knowing that Jesus chose the cross anyway.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
What does this scene tell us about God? What does it tell us about ourselves? And what does it tell us about our relationship with God? These are three questions I often ask myself as I read scripture. (I think I learned it from Disciple.)
God is all-knowing. God knows the future. "One of you will betray me."
"Woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." Remember what happened to Judas after the betrayal? "You will all become deserters because of me this night..." "...you will deny me three times."
God desires to spend time with us. "He took his place with the twelve..." How many places were there? Who else was at the last supper? "...Jesus took the loaf of bread...then he took the cup...he gave it to them...when they sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."
I like to have a plan...to know the plan. "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" I don't always follow a plan, but I like to have one. I like to know what's going to happen next.
I know that I have good intentions, but I don't always follow through. "Surely not I, Lord?" It's interesting to me that all of the disciples asked that question. I think to ask it, is to know that it is possibly you. "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." "And so said all the disciples." And so say I, and yet...
My favorite line is from Matthew 26:27..right at the end. Jesus says, "Drink for it, all of you..." ALL OF YOU. Friends, disciples, deserters, betrayer...all of you.
Monday, March 17, 2008
It was just before Passover, and our Savior was headed toward Jerusalem--fully aware of the plot against him, fully aware of the failures of his disciples, fully aware that the road led to the cross. Today we read three accounts of the same story--Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus with perfume, and the disciples (not just Judas) were indignant. It is said that the cost of the perfume was a year's wages. Can you imagine buying something that cost a year's wages? Something that you can hold in your hand that would cost an entire year's salary?? And then, to pour it out onto someone's head?
It seems to me that the disciples made a good point about the perfume being sold and the money being given to the poor. After all, isn't that the kind of sacrifice Jesus had asked of others? To sell their possessions and give to the poor? It's hard to balance, to comprehend, to live out our lives in the way Jesus taught. One thing, however, is clear. We're to put God first. God before our costly perfumes. God before the poor. God before our families. God before our sports and our scholarships and our jobs and our bills and our friends and our cars and our favorite tv shows. God first. And that is what Mary did.
Three stories come to mind when I think about the person: Mary of Bethany, and three times she shows us what is most important. When she sits at Jesus' feet, while her sister, Martha, prepares and fusses and worries about many things. When she falls to Jesus' feet weeping over the death of her brother, Lazarus, and Jesus weeps with her. And in this beautiful story, when she anoints Jesus for his burial. It seems like Mary is the only one who gets what's going on...what's going to happen to Jesus. It seems like Mary is the only one who understands the choice that Jesus makes. The disciples are dense. The people are dense. Everyone is looking for a political king. But Mary. There is indeed, something about Mary. Mary knew Jesus. Mary isn't anointing Jesus with costly perfume because he's valuable, but because he's everything. Mary anoints Jesus' head because she knows that Jesus is her King. Mary knows that Jesus is her God. Mary knows that Jesus loves her. Mary knows that Jesus is going to die to save her. Mary knows. Mary gets it. Mary shows incredible courage and extravagant generosity, because she knows.
Jesus says that everywhere the Gospel is told--in all the world--that Mary will be remembered for what she did. I wonder how you and I will be remembered? I wonder if I will I ever learn to love God more than everyone and everything else? I wonder if I will ever trust God enough to give everything?
Saturday, March 15, 2008
The answer to the question posed in the title is one of the mysteries of God that I suppose will never be fully understood. The Isaiah text answers it, yet because we can't really wrap our minds around it we continue to ask. There is a great song by Nichole Nordeman called Why?, here are the words:
We rode into town the other day
Just me and my Daddy
He said I'd finally reached that age
And I could ride next to him on a horse
That of course was not quite as wide
We heard a crowd of people shouting
And so we stopped to find out why
And there was that man
That my dad said he loved
But today there was fear in his eyes
So I said "Daddy, why are they screaming?
Why are the faces of some of them beaming?
Why is He dressed in that bright purple robe?
I'll bet that crown hurts Him more than He shows
Daddy, please can't you do something?
He looks as though He's gonna cry
you said he was stronger than all of those guys
Daddy, please tell me why
Why does everyone want him to die?"
Later that day the sky grew cloudy
And Daddy said I should go inside
Somehow he knew things would get stormy
Boy was he right
But I could not keep from wondering
If there was something he had to hide
So after he left I had to find out
I was not afraid of getting lost
So I followed the crowds
To a hill where I knew men had been killed
And I heard a voice come from the cross
And it said, "Father, why are they screaming?
Why are the faces of some of them beaming?
Why are they casting their lots for My robe?
This crown of thorns hurts Me more than it shows
Father, please can't You do something?
I know that You must hear My cry
I thought I could handle the cross of this size
Father, remind Me why
Why does everyone want Me to die?
When will I understand why?"
"My precious Son, I hear them screaming
I'm watching the face of the enemy beaming
But soon I will clothe You in robes of My own
Jesus, this hurts Me much more than You know
But this dark hour I must do nothing
Though I've heard Your unbearable cry
The power in Your blood destroys all of the lies
Soon You'll see past their unmerciful eyes
Look there below, see the child
Trembling by her father's side
Now I can tell You why
She is why You must die
Even reading those words again gives me goose bumps. (By the way, Kelsey Kukal-Keeton will be singing this song at our Good Friday service at noon. I'm so excited!) Back to the question at hand. So there are Biblical scholars, and songwriters, and Sunday School teachers, and children, and atheists, and agnostics, and a whole lot of others continuing to ask this question. The answer is simple to state and unbelievably difficult to comprehend.
The word "righteous" shows up in twice in our texts today. "The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:11) And again in Jeremiah, "O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind..." According to freedictionary.com, righteous is "morally upright, without guilt or sin." That definition definitely describes Jesus. However, to know that Jesus' death makes me righteous, is definitely hard to believe, comprehend, and claim.
To be tested by God, for God to see my heart and mind...that is something that I don't even want to think about. It makes me wonder if God, when he surveys the hearts and minds of the believers like me, finds the question Why the Cross? a good question as well. It would be so easy for God to ask:
What was I thinking? These people are so dense. Why can't they believe that I love them? Why can't they understand that my son died for their sins? Why do they keep carrying their sins around? Why can't they get past their guilt and shame? Why don't they live as forgiven people? Why don't they realize that until they can accept the love that I've given them, they can't share it with others? Son, please tell me why? Why did you have to die?
Fortunately, our all-knowing, all-loving, all-forgiving God understands, can see past our failures, and has a plan. Our God knows the answers. Our God chose the cross.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Although the title for the day is supposed to be Glory in the Highest, I thought Tuesday's title was more fitting...since I've been MIA since last week. I started this thing with a plan to read scripture and to share my reflections daily. My intention was that we might read together. That we might listen for God's still small voice together. It was also about accountability--which is strange because unless someone comments I don't know if it's being read or not. Then, when someone does comment, it's so exciting--like we've actually shared a moment together at different times and in different places. When I haven't blogged in a few days, a comment is a great wake up call.
Robert Hereth said in Listening to Lent, "Jesus has the power of death that we have over sleep...someday, as a mother says to her child, 'Come on, honey, get up,' God will say to you, 'My child, wake up.' And you will." Hereth was speaking in the context of physical death. He reminds us of Jesus saying that Lazarus and Jairus' daughter were "only asleep." And for Jesus, they were, as is evidenced in their resurrections.
In today's reading, I don't think Jesus is talking about physical death--although, He might be. It would certainly be true of physical death as well. However Jesus intended, this Matthew text is difficult. Jesus says, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?"
I want to be a follower--that's not difficult. Denying myself...is. Taking up my cross...is. Following...I believe is only possible when I'm more immersed in Jesus than in other things--things like church meetings, follow-up phone calls, fund-raisers, newsletter articles and, of course, American Idol. I don't want to save my life, I want to give it up...and yet. And yet, there's comfort in the known. Comfort followed ever so closely with discomfort, nagging guilt, and frustration--which, by the way, isn't comfortable at all. I love Jesus' questions. Where's the profit in saving this life? And better still, "What will they give in return for their life?" What's the price? What's the cost of hanging on?
James gives us this wisdom. Submit. Resist. Draw near. Cleanse. Purify. Lament. Mourn. Weep. Let. Humble. As I consider each of these words imagining what they feel like or what they might look like in my life, I realize their perfect order. When I submit and when I resist, I draw near to God and I experience the joy of God drawing near to me. Then as God draws near, I am cleansed and purified and I lament and mourn and weep over the things in my life that are now missing--which doesn't make any sense, yet is so true. We miss our old lives, and like Gomer, we run back to them. Because it's what we know, and it's what we think we deserve. And, like Hosea, God runs back for us. My favorite word on the list is "let" because "let" is a choice. God tells us to let our laughter turn to mourning and to let our joy turn into dejection. Let it happen. Then, only then, can we "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt..."
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning. (from Psalm 130)
Even now, let us wait and hope and watch for the Lord.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Have your parents ever said something like, "Your behavior reflects poorly on me," or "I'm so proud of you," or my personal favorite, "Smile, so people think you have a good mom." (That last one is a quote from Brian Broadway, and it still cracks me up.)
In Matthew 5:16, Jesus commands, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." So that...don't miss the so that. So that by seeing your good works God is glorified. Not so that you'll get to heaven or so that you'll be a "good Christian." (whatever that means) So that God gets the honor. So that people want the relationship with God that you have. So that your life matters because God loves you.
So that you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus. So that those who lose their life for Jesus' sake and for the sake of the Gospel will find it.
So that we set our minds on divine things and not human things. So that we're not a stumbling block. So that we are a light to the world.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
"To the agnostic in all of us, who wonders if there is a God..." (Hereth, Listening to Lent) That's a great line. I never thought about an agnostic living in all of us. Certainly I've wondered if there is a God. I've wondered if the very thing I've built my life upon is true. I've wondered if faith is for the weak and hope for the fool. But I've never acknowledged that that is the agnostic in me.
Merriam-Websters Online says, "...one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God..." That's a person unsure of anything. On the fence. Neither hot nor cold. Ewwww. That's not who I want to be. I want to be decisive, yet I sometimes find myself the Queen of Indecision. I want to be certain, yet I often find myself with more questions than answers. I want to be confident, yet I can find myself doubting.
Moses also lacked confidence--to the point that God got a little ticked off at him--on more than one occasion. In the Exodus text we find God calling Moses and Moses doubting himself or doubting God. He points to his flaws--wondering if God knows about them. Turns out God does and God provides.
In John we find the followers getting a little annoyed with Jesus asking, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you're the Messiah tell us plainly." They're doubting that Jesus is who He says He is. They're blind to the miracles around them because Jesus isn't coming according to plan. Hmmm. I heard recently that sheep are so dumb that they go into the water to drink, but end up drowning because they can't get themselves out without a shepherd. Jesus tells them, "You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish." Knowing how dumb sheep are and comparing them to us makes Jesus' words "they will never perish" even more miraculous.
In 2 Timothy, Paul urges Timothy to "...continue in what you have learned and firmly believed..." Timothy needed reassurance. Timothy doubted. Timothy needed to be reminded of the power of God in Christ. He needed to be reminded that he's been trained in righteousness, that he's proficient, that he's equipped for every good work. We too need such reminders.
Be assured. Be convinced. Be confident. Be faithful. Walk in the light.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
"For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light." -- Psalm 36:9
I'm fascinated by this scripture. I can't seem to grasp it's meaning, and yet I'm drawn to it. With you is the fountain of life. In your light, we see light. Sometimes when I'm drawn to a scripture, I read it over and over again--emphasizing different words each time. To emphasize with and in, it becomes about location, geography. With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. This time it's about God and us. It's about relationship. With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Here it becomes about truth and about our response to the truth. With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. To emphasize the is to change the pronunciation of the, to say this fountain is the only fountain--or at least the only fountain that matters. With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. To focus on fountain brings forth all sorts of images of fountains--an eternal flow of water, springing up, falling on the water below, creating waves and movement and beauty. Bringing about a sense of peace in the midst of rhythm and chaos and noise. With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Life. It's the stuff we're made of--breath and blood and creativity and conversation and contemplation. With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. In this light, we get it. In the light of God, we see it. We see light. It's an epiphany. When we see things through the filter of God's light, we see light.
John Wesley said of this scripture: "Life - It is in God as in a fountain, and from him is derived to us. But - Of that glorious and blessed, and endless life, which alone is worthy of the name. Light - In the light of thy glorious presence, which shall be fully manifested, when we see thee face to face. Light - Joy and comfort, and happiness: the word light is elegantly repeated in another signification; in the former clause it is light discovering, in this light, discovered or enjoyed."
We can become overburdened by everyday, ordinary life--deadlines, expectations of others, commitments, poverty, injustice, dreams and goals. Yet when we begin to filter our world with the light of God, we are no longer living in darkness. "In your light, we see light." That's hope. That's the fountain of life--the moving, constant, eternal, life.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Tight with God. I would not have titled this--or anything else, with that. Yet that's the title Hereth uses in Listening to Lent for today. A few years ago students were calling things that were cool or nice, "tight." "That's tight." I never really got that. When I hear the word tight, I imagine tight pants on Thanksgiving, or tight shoes on a long walk, or tight spaces and too much stuff, or perhaps a tightwad. The word tight doesn't often have pleasant connotations, so I wondered about saying "That's tight" about something that is good. However, when I consider being tight with someone--being tight with God, that seems to have the potential for good. Tight would be closer than close, right? You're not just close to someone, but tight--really bound together--so close that you make impressions upon one another.
Imagine the tight pants again. The person causes the fabric to wrinkle and contort, while the pants leave marks upon the person. Both parties are shaped by the other. Now, I must say that to put on warm, freshly laundered, tight pants feels good. I like it...in the beginning. But as the day goes on, the tightness can be uncomfortable. I can tug and pull and rearrange, but truthfully I just can't wait to be in my pajamas again. Of course, if I hold out. If I continue to wear the pants for hours and hours they start to loosen up and wrinkle and become softer, and maybe I'll wear them a 2nd time before laundering them again and this time they're much more comfortable. But after a while, I long for them to be laundered again. The fresh, clean scent. The close, tight fit. It feels good...in the beginning.
Until this moment, I've never compared my relationship with God to tight pants. But it makes sense, at least for me. To be "tight with God," feels good...in the beginning. But then, when I'm really listening to God, it gets uncomfortable. Those nagging marks and impressions left on me. I can tug and pull and rearrange. I can escape to my pajamas for a time or I can relax in different scriptures. I can savor the sweetness of my salvation, the grace of God, the mercy of God. But after a while, I long for transformation. I long to be marked by God...even when it's painful or uncomfortable. John Wesley's covenant prayer comes to mind: "...put me to doing, put me to suffering...let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to Thy pleasure and disposal.."
The Deuteronomy text reminds us, as Jesus did when he was in the wilderness, that one does not live on bread alone. In each of us is a longing for something more. There has to be more to life than eating and working and sleeping and going to Wal-Mart. The Hebrews text reminds us that Jesus made himself like one of us, truly human. "Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested." And, the Micah text, some of my favorite words in all of scripture, remind us that God does not desire our offerings of wealth for our transgressions--"the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" Our Lord requires that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Four requirements: justice, kindness, humility, and being tight with God. Sounds good...
Friday, February 29, 2008
Life is interesting, unexpected and often rushed. On Wednesday, after the meeting about our trip this summer and after UMY and after hanging out with Devin, Emily, Danie and Raymond and after cleaning the youth kitchen, I got home about 10 p.m.; and, my mind was racing. I got online and began to search for answers to the questions about transportation to Washington, D.C. Then, I made the slides for Joy Connection for Sunday. Then I made some slides for the UMW meeting on Thursday. Then suddenly, it was 3:30 in the morning. Then even more suddenly, it was 6:45 and Rachel was picking me up at 7:00 for K-Life. Fast forward to church, UMW meeting, clean-up, more research on the trip, conversations with parents, emails to the church family reminding them of Trivia Night, a trip to the grocery store, cooking dinner, watching American Idol, instant messaging Ariel, and then the hunt for trivia questions was on. Then suddenly, it was 2:37, then it was 3:00, a couple more, 3:31. Lights out. Then suddenly, it was 8:00. Getting ready for the day--hair, makeup, dressing, packing up laptop, books, etc. Fixing breakfast, talking to Jared, taking Mom to work, going to the $ Store for stuff for Trivia Night tonight, going to the ecumenical Friday Lenten Service, driving home, and here's where it gets interesting...or gross...or horrifying...or something...I have a coughing fit and vomit on myself and the passenger seat and the console while driving down Joe Bald road. Sick. I know. I mean, I don't feel sick--not anymore. But, sick! I haven't vomited on myself in the car for more than 35 years.
And did you notice in all of that activity, there was not reflection, devotional time spent with my Lord, no scripture reading--not until 10 a.m. this morning at the service--but nothing of my own personal quiet time with God? No blogging, no thoughtful contemplation. Meanwhile, I still have 6 more categories of Trivia Questions to come up with. I still have to make score sheets. I still have to organize, sort and set up prizes, snacks, etc before the youth arrive this afternoon. And, of course, I'm doing laundry. I'm wearing my Todd Agnew, Are you Sure? t-shirt tonight! It just needs a little cleaning, along with my hoodie and my pants.
Three little words. I vomited myself. I haven't studied. I'm doing laundry. I haven't blogged. It is I. Peter lost focus. I lost focus. I am He. Kingdom of God. Walk on water. Come and see. Why did you doubt? Three little words. Words that can change the course of your day. Words that can wreak havoc on your spiritual well-being. Words that can profoundly alter your life. Words that bring hope and peace and comfort and curiosity and questions and truth and reality. Three little words.
When I read the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water, I am reminded of Rob Bell's words on being a disciple. About how Jesus believes in us. Jesus believes in me. Peter began to sink when he shifted his focus from Jesus to the waves crashing around him. In the same way, you and I will sink in our frustrations, our busyness, our jobs, our good things, when we too lose focus. It's a struggle to make spending quiet time with God every day a priority. Oh, but the rewards! The peace, the comfort, the grace. Jesus so overpowers the rest of life that I must not lose focus. I must not forget my Savior.
The Kingdom of God is like...
Did you notice that none of the things that the Kingdom of God is like are things that are fast, or powerful, or flashy or whatever. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like someone who sows good seed in his field, like a mustard seed, like a treasure hidden in a field, like a merchant in search of fine pearls, like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind, like a master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. God says that we are like a tree planted by stream. All of these things are things that take a long time or things that take intentional pursuit or patience or endurance or an openness to diversity.
Most trees take a long to time to fully mature. I'm thankful God is patient. I'm thankful God knows it's going to take a long time for me to fully mature. I'm thankful that God is my stream. I'm thankful for three little words.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
So there are things that we know about ourselves...things that frustrate, annoy and depress us...yet we go on doing them. Why is that? It seems so simple when we see it in others. We want to tell them how to fix it. We wonder, sometimes aloud, why they do this to themselves. Yet if we look upon our own lives we must see ourselves doing the same things. Things that frustrate, things that annoy and things that depress us. After such incidents, we find ourselves angry, irritable, confrontational, defensive...because we failed again, we screwed up again, we've disappointed ourselves again. And as a result, we hurt people we love, we're indifferent to those in need, and we build a wall around ourselves that no one can penetrate. So then the question "Why do we keep doing the things we despise?" leads to more questions. Like, "Why are we so self-focused?" and "Is there any hope for fools such as us?" and "Why, oh why would the God of the universe place such important tasks in our hands?" It's a ludicrous plan really.
And yet...God so loved the world. Not the saints, the righteous, the infallible, but the world. God so loved the world. Even me. Even you. "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...If one member suffers, all suffer together with it"--especially, I think, when that suffering is self-induced because with that comes a whole lot of other guilt and shame. "If one member is honored, all rejoice together with it." This, my friends, is why we share our joys and concerns in Worship. And how many of us are guilty of not experiencing joys and concerns with one another? We complain because it takes up too much time in the service, we can't hear the person talking, we don't know who's talking, etc, etc, etc.
Verse 27 says, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." I think my favorite word in that sentence is NOW. NOW I am the body of Christ. NOW you are the body of Christ. Not tomorrow. Not someday. Not when we get to heaven. NOW. The Kingdom of God is at hand, because we are the body of Christ. Even in our failings and our frustrations. Even when the plan seems ludicrous. God is. And, we are. We are the body of Christ, and God is our safe harbor.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
No, Kendra did NOT fall off the face of the earth...she just went to Disney World, and she was greeted by the rude reality that the Wonderful World of Disney was NOT the Wonderful World of Free Internet.
So instead of paying the $9.95 a day to update her blog, she asked me (her very smart, witty, intelligent, and blog savvy friend Rachel) to update the page and let you all know what she is meditating on while she is away.
So...no excuses (Raymond)...open your Bible and check this stuff out.
Ok Thing 1...The Sermon on the Mount. You'll find this in Matthew 5:1-7:29. This might seem like a big chunk of Scripture, so feel free to split it up. Decide how much you'll read a day for the next 4 days and go with it...(I think Kendra gets back in 4 days.) Or read it all tonight and go back and pick out sections that stood out and read those on the following nights. I'm sure there's plenty to keep us all pondering. There are stodgy old theologians, who think they know everything, who have spent years and years studying this sermon of Jesus and are still finding it applicable to life today. Here's a little info on the Sermon to whet your appetite. Basically there are three types of material in this sermon...Jesus gives some declarations of blessedness (maybe you've heard them referred to as the beatitudes...they're beautiful.), He also touches on some ethical things....like murder and adultery, and He contrasts between His ethical teachings and the legalistic traditions in the Jewish religion.
No doubt that Jesus' call to moral and ethical living in this sermon is a high call...it's not an easy call, nor is it one that can be met by our own power. Guess it's a good thing that we have Jesus on our side! At the end of His sermon it talks about the people being amazed by the authority with which Jesus spoke...pretty cool.
Ok...and on top of that turn to Psalm 27. It's a little shorter than the Sermon on the Mount! I think Kendra said she's reading through this every day, so feel free to journey with her!
So there you go...now you have a list o' stuff to read while Kendra is gone enjoying the lovely warm Florida weather. But in her absence from MO, you can know that someone is praying for you and that God would open your eyes and heart to His Word...and that person is me! : )
Saturday, February 16, 2008
"Indeed the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)
Since Ash Wednesday, I have been looking at scripture through the eyes of my sins, my confessions and my forgiveness--experiencing again the joy of my salvation. These words from Hebrews are so true--God's word is not just some ordinary book to be placed on a shelf or displayed on a coffee table. God's word is living and active. Sharper than any two-edged sword--it gets under our skin and into our hearts in a way nothing else can. I've found that the more I read it, the more agitated I get about injustices--poverty, hunger, suffering--and the more peace I find for my own inconsistencies, sins and frustrations.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit." (Psalm 51:10-11) There is so much packed into all of Psalm 51, and I know I've talked about it already this week. But this little section packs so much in and of itself that I thought we needed to look at it again--to discover our need for this prayer in our own lives. David has given us a model for seeking forgiveness, restoration, God's presence, and the joy of our salvation! If we don't have joy about or over our salvation, perhaps we don't fully understand it or the extent of the tremendous amount of pain Jesus endured. The joy is not in the pain or the suffering, but in the love expressed. The incredible, unmerited love.
When we really begin to consider that love, we begin to wonder why it's taking God so long to come back for us. We sing songs about when we will see Jesus face to face. I can only imagine. Peter explains to us "The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance...Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation."
"Our great God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves." (Listening to Lent)
Friday, February 15, 2008
The Choice. Should I stay or go? Talk or remain silent? Paper or plastic? For here or to go? Smoking or non-smoking? Fresh or frozen? Hillary or Barack? Huckabee or McCain? Ron Paul, anyone? Toasted or plain? Cable or satellite? We are bombarded each and every day with a multitude of choices. Some significant, some trivial, some too difficult to ever have to decide.
At times, I have called myself "the Queen of indecision." I often have a tendency to over-analyze things. I try to look at things from a million different perspectives imagining how my decision might effect someone else--never considering how my lack of a decision might effect others. Then, there are other times, when I make decisions too quickly--too impulsively, and I then suffer the consequences far too long.
Hereth said today in Listening to Lent, "God binds us to himself with forgiveness...But suffer God does, in order to have us be his." How that must be true. God loves us so much and forgives us time and time again. God's mercies are new every morning, but what of our mercies? What of our forgiveness? Far too often we are more like Adam and Eve--blaming others for our mistakes. Far less often are we like the psalmist who confesses and then receives forgiveness. We like to justify our actions. However, the scripture from 1 John challenges us to live in the light.
As I've written this post, I keep going back to the title of the day and 1 John 2:6. The New Revised Standard Version says, "whoever says, 'I abide in him,' ought to walk just as he walked." And, I guess that's the choice, isn't it. We so often talk of Jesus living in us, but this text talks about us living in him. I'll close with a really beautiful prayer that I read a few weeks ago from A Guide to Prayer for All God's People. It seems most appropriate.
"My God, in all the great and small choices I will make this day, be in my heart and in my choosing that I may come to day's end knowing I have chosen wisely--for you. Amen."
Thursday, February 14, 2008
So, it's after 10 p.m. -- more than 12 hours later than I planned to write this! I planned to do it this morning before K-Life. Instead I packed. I planned to do at church before I got to work on my projects. Instead I got caught up with others. I planned to write it as soon as Mom and I checked into the hotel in Bentonville, AR, as we were planning to begin our vacation tonight. We got about half way there...Eureka Springs, and EUREKA! We realized we forgot our Disney passes/airline itinerary/AAA packet. So...we turned around and drove home imagining that our 2 hour trip was now going to be 4 hours, and that we would be Bentonville by 8:00. So, we got home, got the packet, got back in the car and I decided to make a quick stop at Dollar General. As I dug through my wallet, I discovered that I did not have my check card. Retracing my steps of the day, I determined that I must have left it in the ATM machine. I called the 24-hour banking center, reported the problem only to learn that I can fix it at any bank branch...in Missouri. Not Arkansas. So, I called the hotel canceled our reservation for tonight, and have plans to be at the bank when they open in the morning. I'm not sure why, but I don't think we were supposed to be in Bentonville tonight. Maybe we weren't supposed to spend the money. Maybe we would have been in an accident. Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with Bentonville or us. Maybe it's just circumstance or chance or old-fashioned stupidity. So, finally, I'm home. It's 10 p.m., and I open my Bible to read this:
"My brothers and sisters, whenever your face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have it's full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing." Now, I know that the problems that I faced today are so insignificant to the problems that so many of God's children face. In fact, I have faced much greater worries in my own life. However, I was struck by the word "any." Any kind of trial--large or small. I can honestly say I wasn't angry about the events of the day, but I certainly did not consider it joy!
It would seem there was a coup d'etat on our plans for the day. I love that today's title is French. It literally means "strike to the state." According to freedictionary.com it means " The sudden overthrow of a government by a usually small group of persons in or previously in positions of authority." Hereth, in Listening to Lent, likens a coup d'etat to when we're seduced by all that glitters thinking that the more we amass the more like God we'll become--or at least the more invincible. The reality is the more we try to be like God--try to create our own happiness--try to control others--try to be in charge of everything--the less like Jesus we become.
Wouldn't it be great if Jesus suddenly took over our lives and became our authority? Soloman, in all his wisdom, said "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." Fear of the Lord comes only when we take the time to consider the full magnitude of God. It happens when we take time each day to reflect on God's greatness and our smallness. When we praise God for who God is. When we humble ourselves before God and others. Joseph could have lorded his position over his brothers. He had every right to abuse them for what they did to him. After all, it would have only been fair, right? God doesn't call us to be fair. God doesn't call us to tolerate one another. God calls us to humble ourselves. God calls us to love. God calls us to serve. God calls us to care for the widow and orphan, to visit the imprisoned, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. God doesn't tell us to visit the innocent in prison, to care for the ones who have tried to care for themselves, to feed the hungry who work. In other words, God doesn't call us to care for those who deserve it. I don't think it matters how someone got into a difficult situation. What matters is that when we see someone hurting, we're called to alleviate that suffering. When God's children ache, we also should ache.
A few nights ago, I spent the evening with some friends discussing how we could help in the fight to end world poverty. My friend Jeff said that if one of his children were in another country dying of hunger he would do whatever it took to get to that country to save his child. He said there would be nothing that would stop him. And he wondered how it must also break God's heart when so many of his children are suffering while so many of his children do nothing about it. Hmmm. Good question.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Isn't it strange how everything seems to be flowing together in our scripture readings as if I or the writers of Upper Room, Listening to Lent or A Guide to Prayer for All God's People had a plan. As if they were all written at the same time by the same authors for the same purpose. God is good.
"I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart...On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul." Here, David gives credit where credit is due. He thanks God, calls on God, and the strength of his soul is increased. I don't even know what that means, what that would feel like. It reminds me of the old hymn, It is Well. It was written by a guy named Horatio Spafford after some tragic events in his life--including losing his business in a fire and his children in a shipwreck. The words are so powerful.
It Is Well With My Soul
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
WOW. This, to me, is the lesson for the day. This must be what it's like to have your soul strengthened. How easy it would have been for Spafford to "curve" in on himself. To wallow in the mire of self-pity. And who could blame him?
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life...do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today." Oh Jesus, if only we could heed your words. If only we could be more concerned with the needs of others instead of ourselves. If only we weren't seduced by our own righteousness. If only we weren't so obsessed with others being "good Christians," and instead focus on our own paths to following you. If only we didn't take your grace in vain. Even so, it is well with my soul.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Priorities. Each day, if we're to be productive, we prioritize what we need to get done. If we have a test in 3rd hour and 7th hour, we probably study for the test in 3rd hour first. If we have a meeting on Tuesday night and Thursday night, we prepare for the meeting on Tuesday night first. If we're going on vacation, we decide our budget, choose our destination, ask for the time off, plan our transportation, then our lodging, then what we'll do when we get there, what we'll wear, what we'll need--toiletries, books, shoes. Then, as the departure date looms, we start doing laundry, we shop for travel size items, we may consider the weather both at home and at our destination. What started as a joy begins to be an unending list of things to do and prioritize.
We prioritize everything. Even simple everyday things like when we brush our teeth in the morning or when we check our email. Scriptures tell us to "strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness..." (Matthew 6:33) Easier said than done. As I consider the scriptures for today, the Psalms reading is very resolute. I will do this. "Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain." "I will keep your law continually, forever and ever." Yet we find in the Nehemiah text that that simply isn't true. We recount all the things that God does for us, and still we turn away. We are so very blessed and we forget the goodness and abounding steadfast love of our God. "...we're not mindful of the wonders..."
I was reading in Radical Renovation, Living the Cross-Shaped Life by James A. Harnish that Saint Augustine used the Latin phrase "homo incurvatus in se" which means "man curved in on himself," and that Martin Luther said of it "Our nature...is so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them...but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake." WOW! If this is our nature, to be turned so inwardly, to prioritize our days to focus on ourselves, what is there to say of Jesus' words "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."? Or the words of Hereth in Listening to Lent, "Is what you hold dearest your greatest temptation?"
Thankfully, we have a God "...ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love..." Thankfully, we have a God who "...proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." Thankfully, Jesus didn't lose sight of his priority--to save us and to reconcile us to God. "...we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life."
Priorities. Strive FIRST for God's kingdom. What does that look like? God's kingdom has no suffering. God's kingdom has no hate. No war. No disease. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven. This day, may our suffering produce endurance, our endurance produce character, our character produce hope. And may our hope not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Let experiencing God's love and sharing it with others be our priority this day and all the days of our lives.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Bottom line is, I've been staring at the screen for more than an hour. Bottom line is it's much easier to write in my private journal than on this blogspot. Bottom line is that today's scriptures bring both trouble and peace. I suppose that's the way it is with Jesus. If we take seriously the words of God, they begin to eat at us.
I hate to quote Shane Claiborne again, but I think he tells a great story in his book, The Irresistible Revolution. He says, "You may recall the old comic in which two pastors are talking, and one of them asks the other, 'How's your church?' The other pastor boasts, 'Quite well, I should say. When I got there, we had only thirty members, and I have been there only a year. Now we are seeing over four hundred people on Sunday morning. And how's your church?' The first pastor says, 'Well, I don't know. When I got there, we were seeing about a hundred. I've been preaching the gospel, and I've preached that ole church down to ten.'"
On the other hand, we hear throughout scripture about the crowds that followed Jesus. One of my favorite scriptures is in today's gospel reading. It's Mark 1:37. Jesus had gone off to a deserted place to pray, and when his disciples found him they exclaimed, "Everyone is searching for you." I think that's still true today, and I also believe we live among one of the toughest mission fields. We live in a wealthy society preaching a gospel that says it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven. Claiborne goes on to say, "Certainly, thousands were added to their number in the early church--the poor, outcasts, people fed up with the world. They were the scum of the earth." (See 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 for specifics.) Jesus met up with one such person in Mark 1:40-45. It's so beautiful. Jesus didn't dismiss the leper. Jesus didn't heal him from a distance. "Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him..."
Bottom line? The Christian gospel doesn't always draw a crowd. But it calls us to touch others. Bottom line. When we begin the really hear God, and stick around, we're not satisfied with the status quo. We have to do something. We have to live better. Express love more freely. Extend grace more soundly. Touch others. Serve and forgive. Serve and forgive. Serve and forgive. Bottom line.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
The serpent. The tempter. The deceiver. Satan. We don't talk much about Satan, at least not in Methodist circles. Yet, I know that many pastors spend a great deal of time teaching about him. Today's readings remind us of his craftiness...and most importantly of his existence. There are some believers who deny even the existence of Satan, I suppose wanting only to focus on God's love.
For me, God's love is made more real, more tangible in the reality of sin and deception. As we move closer to Easter, there is a temptation to disregard Holy Thursday and Good Friday. And why not? They're downers. We don't want to see Christ's journey to and upon the cross. That's why our churches aren't packed to the brim on these nights. Oh, but come Easter morning! Now, that's a different story. Some of us are even willing to Worship in the cold, dark outside at 6:45 in the morning to celebrate the Son's rising with the sun rising! But on Thursday night at 7:00? or Friday at noon? No thanks. I can't work that into my schedule. Or, what is Holy Thursday/Maundy Thursday? Good Friday? Why is it good? But what does the resurrection of our Savior mean, if we don't know the truth about the cross. The truth about the cross is that Jesus died not because of his sins, but because of ours.
Shane Claiborne says in his book, The Irresistible Revolution, "When the darkness of our world, and all the fears we hold in that darkness, are pierced by the light of God's love and by the possibility that God has other ideas in mind for how we are to live, something liberating happens. But there is also the danger of our becoming mesmerized by the dazzle of the light. It can become quite comfortable, like a campfire. We can crawl up into the hands of God and fall asleep in the sweet aroma and cozy warmth, asleep by the fire. And so much of the world lies in the cold, clammy darkness of human suffering, oppression, inequality. My friend John Francis Maher sings a beautiful song that whispers to the groaning masses, 'Don't let your eyes adjust to the dark.' Perhaps we could also add for those by the fire, 'Don't fall asleep in the light.' We must neither get used to the darkness of human suffering or fall asleep in the comfort of the light."
Easter is light! It's joy and salvation! We love to be in the light. To bask in its joy and experience its grace. We love to be unaware of the suffering around us. We say, "Ignorance is bliss." And, it is. As followers of Jesus Christ, let us not fall asleep in the light. Let us not bask so long that we ignore, dismiss, and alienate others from experiencing the peace that passes understanding, the love that knows no bounds. Let us remember the cross. Let us remember that it was us, me and you, who put Christ there. Let us remember so that we may rejoice.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
"You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." I love this scripture! And, I love the English language. (I love all languages, actually. I can sit in a room filled with Italians or Russians or the French or Navajos or whatever and simply listen to them speak their languages. It's quite beautiful.) Anyway...I love this scripture for the promise it holds. The word shall means many things. It can be an order, a promise, a requirement, an obligation, a must. It can also be the will to do something or have something take place. But it can also mean something that is inevitable, something that will take place, something that will exist in the future. It is this meaning that gets me excited.
Since Wednesday, we've been looking at our sins. Considering what separates us from our God. David knew what separated him from God. He had just committed a multitude of sins--lust, envy, sexual promiscuity, lies, denial, and murder--to name a few. He begged for mercy. He begged for cleansing. He said, "I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight." His repentance included sorrow, confession, and a commitment to sin no more. A beautiful model for us. But we don't like to look at our sin. It's uncomfortable. Depressing even. We live in a culture that teaches us not to feel guilty, to only feel good about ourselves. We live in a society with more affluence and yet more depression than any other.
Bishop Sally Dyck said, "...people in our culture need to confess their sins and receive the good news that they are forgiven. We all live in the pressure cooker of expectations and demands, where nothing is ever good enough for us or from us, and where our perfectionism, excuses and need to control take over. Confession and words of assurance bring exquisite relief..." (www.umc.org) The problem is getting to the assurance of forgiveness. We have to face our sin first. We have to confess our sin. It seems the closer I get to God, the more aware of my transgressions I become. And with that, the more filled with thanks I become for God's unending, unexplainable, unbelievable love. And, yet, I do believe.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. I shall. Someday. Everyday more. Oh what a day it's going to be when I do love my God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my might. When I can love myself, my desires, my things, my satisfaction...less. I shall. Because I have been given a clean heart. Because a new and right spirit is within me. Because my transgressions have been blotted out. I shall love my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my might. I shall.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 118:29)
Friday, February 8, 2008
As I sit here sipping a hot chai tea latte, feeling full and satisfied from a delicious meal and lovely conversation at the local Chinese Buffet, I wonder if I've spent my day realizing that Now is the Hour? After an odd sleeping pattern and late start this morning, I read the above scriptures, but found myself without thought or idea. Without inspiration or a word from God. I went to the Ecumenical Lenten Service at the Presbyterian Church at 10:00, hoping for revelation and guidance. The pastor read from Matthew 4 when Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights being tempted by Satan. He was about to begin his ministry, and He wasn't led astray or simply decide to go camping. He was led by the Spirit into wilderness to suffer. The pastor encouraged us to "make good use" of our 40 days of Lent...to examine ourselves fully...and to "remove anything that separates" us from our loving God. Now is the hour.
Now is the hour. What if I'm not ready? The scripture from Judges finds Gideon saying to an angel of the Lord, "But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us..." I find that we're still asking the same questions. They may sound more like, "Why did you let this happen to me?" "Where was God when tornadoes destroyed entire city blocks?" or "If this is what a life lived with God looks like, then I want no part of it." Sometimes we believe that when we accept Christ only good will happen in our lives. In fact, there is even a commercial running for a televangelist couple that says, "If you obey God, good will happen." And, that's simply not true--at least by our standards of good. John the Baptist obeyed God, and his head was cut off and served on a platter. Stephen obeyed God and was stoned to death. Paul obeyed God and was imprisoned and beaten repeatedly. Scriptures show us time after time after time when obeying God was not the easy, comfortable or "blessed" road. I don't think it ever is. There's a great song by Christopher Ames called The Remnant that talks about this very thing. (Check it out at: http://www.myspace.com/christopherames)
So why don't we believe God when he says, "See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!"? (2 Cor 6:2) Is it that we don't believe it, or that we're not ready for it? We want everything instantly, except that. Instant cereal, instant messages, instant credit, instant tax returns, instant winners. We're ready for stuff, but we're not ready to highlight the section of our Bible that says, "...as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger..." Because we want no part of these things. We want only to be blessed by God. And indeed we are. We don't want to be blessed to be a blessing. We simply want to be blessed. And the moment things don't go our way, we find ourselves asking "Where was God when I needed him?" OR instead, we might begin search for piety. We think we can control things. We make bargains with God. "I won't do this or that any longer, if you'll bless me." And so we begin. We consume ourselves with trying to live in "purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God" all the while judging those who aren't, who don't, who can't. The truth is, we can't either. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. God set us free from that life. So, why don't we live in that freedom? Behavior, we can control (at least for a little while.) We can understand "earning our way." We can't understand grace. And we don't understand how afflictions, hardships, beatings, sleepless nights, hunger...are part of God's plan for our lives.
We're reminded again of suffering in 1 Peter 4:1, "Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention..." If we are to be true followers of Jesus Christ, we must also intend to suffer. We must also intend to suffer? Is that what that said? Then verse 2 "so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God." And what are our earthly desires? Well, suffering we do not desire. What do we desire? For what do we toil? For a nice car, a nice house,a nice job, a nice family, nice clothes, a nice church, a nice neighborhood. You know, I can't recall the word nice used in scripture, and it's not in my concordance--I just checked. How did pleasing ourselves become our top priority?
Still, there is hope. Peter goes on to say, "Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received." Constant love. A multitude of sins. Without complaining. Stewards of the manifold grace of God. Serve one another. Now is the hour. Love now. Stop complaining now. Offer grace now. Now is the hour. Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation!